Divorce and Parenting/Dr. Mark Banschick

Posted on January 27, 2014


We thank Dr. Banschick or his permission in allowing this article to be excerpted. MR

Divorce is a challenge for everyone involved.  Fifteen years ago I was an expert witness helping judges decide on custody arrangements.  After seeing far too many messy divorces and exasperated judges, I thought that teaching parents how to divorce with psychological integrity was very important.  Often separating couples need additional help in order to handle their divorce appropriately.  Imagine that you were to get two bad speeding tickets. The state that you reside in will automatically threaten to take away your drivers’ license unless you do what?Take a defensive driving course.

In divorce, parents are raising children under strenuous, emotional circumstances. They may be worried about money, their lawyer’s abilities, or just be exhausted by the whole process. Mistakes happen that can hurt the well being of their children. So, the notion of offering a defensive parenting course to a divorcing parent makes logical sense. It is a public health issue. In other words, the state has an interest in protecting children from the emotional ups and downs of divorce. Think of such courses as seat belts in a car. They may not prevent accidents, but they may mitigate the damage.

 Florida was among the first states to institutionalize parenting courses for divorcing couples by passing the Reform of Marriage Law in 1998. It mandates four things:

High school students must take a course in ‘marital and relationship skill based education’

Encourag[ing] engaged couples to take a ‘premarital education course’ of at least four hours which should include instruction on conflict resolution, communication skills, financial responsibilities, children and parenting and data on problems married couples face

Each couple applying for a marriage license will also be given a handbook prepared by the Bar Association to inform couples of ‘the rights and responsibilities under Florida law of marital partners to each other and to their children, both during a marriage and upon dissolution’

Couples with children who file for divorce must take a ‘Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course’ that covers the legal and emotional impact of divorce on adults and children, financial responsibility, laws on child abuse or neglect and they must learn conflict resolution skills” (http://www.smartmarriages.com/mcmanusflorida.html).

A liberal Jewish representative, Elaine Bloom, and the conservative head of the Christian coalition in Florida, John Dowless, worked together that same year to pass a piece of legislation called the Marriage Preparation and Preservation Act in an attempt to cut the divorce rate in Florida. It did this by trying to study how marriages come together and then fall apart through a statewide survey. Since then other states and local jurisdictions have followed suit; in fact, some politicians in other states have publicly included the creation of marital education groups as a campaign goal.

Divorce in the state of Florida involves 50,000 to 60,000 minor children each year, which  adds up to real risks of long term emotional and financial problems in divorced families.  Because of these statistics, the Act was introduced to cope with the high divorce rate. The results have been largely positive.